Sharon Walls

Young Drissa lives in a town in northeast Guinea, where his father Mory works on a farm, growing maize and rice while raising his six sons with his wife. When Drissa was five-years-old, life changed dramatically for his family.

He was playing on the ground close to where his mother was cooking with a pot of hot oil hanging over the fire. While playing, Drissa tripped and fell into the hot oil, getting burns over his neck and chest.

His parents immediately took him to the clinic and spent the next two months with him in the hospital. Eventually, his wounds healed, but he still had painful burn contractures on his neck. It was hard for Drissa to move his neck or look around, and his family struggled with being unable to help him — Mory felt that they had very little hope to find healing for his son.

Before the accident, Drissa’s home was full of happiness, but after his accident, life became harder.

“I used to have enough money to buy food for my family — but afterwards, we had to find money to buy his medicine and pay for his care at the hospital,” Mory said. “I couldn’t provide enough food for my children anymore, so my wife had to start working in the mines.”

It was hard for Drissa too. When he went to school after his accident, his friends would laugh at him because of his burns.

Four years after Drissa’s accident, a friend who works in Conakry, Guinea’s capital city, came by to visit. When he saw Drissa’s neck, he told Mory about a hospital ship that was coming to Guinea with volunteers that would provide free surgery to those in need.

When Drissa received his date for surgery, he and his father left the rest of their family at home and travelled for two days to get to Conakry. When they came to the ship, Mory was amazed at the interaction between the volunteers and his son.

“I thought, ‘I have never experienced this type of kindness before.’ They took care of my son even while he was sleeping,” Mory said. “The way they treated him is the way that God wants us to be treated, so I can see that people on the ship really know God… When we go home, I will tell everyone that Mercy Ships is real — Drissa is the proof that help is possible, and that we are all equal and deserve to be treated with kindness.”

Now that Drissa is healing from the scars that caused him so much pain, Mory says that his son will be returning to school as soon as possible.

“By coming [to Mercy Ships], I have seen the importance of education,” Mory said. “What happens on the ship is not magic — it is possible because many people have studied and are now putting their education to use. I want my son to have that same education and to know that anything can be possible.”


Reported by Rose Talbot

Sharon Walls


IT specialists volunteering on board the Mercy Ship more than 30 years apart share their experiences providing information technology that allows this state of the art hospital to be fully functional in developing nation ports. Read the challenges faced as the team operate thousands of kilometres from the nearest available technology resources.



Read the story by Owen McCarthy in bizEDGE





The toughest tech you’ll ever love – find out more about volunteering in information services with Mercy Ships



Sharon Walls

Tradies onboard the Mercy Ship have a healthy sense of being part of the larger Mercy Ships team, knowing the free surgeries provided for the poor could not take place unless every crew member played their part, explains Otago man Edmund Rooke.

Until recently, Edmund Rooke from Waimate had never heard of the nation of Senegal. However, signing up as a volunteer for 20 weeks aboard the world’s largest civilian hospital ship finds him working behind the scenes as the Mercy Ships medical teams provide essential surgery and medical capacity building usually unavailable in this developing West African nation.




The 25-year-old is assisting the Mercy Ships tradies who volunteer onboard in the vessel’s technical departments; vital roles rarely associated in most people’s minds with a hospital ship.

‘I love that when I go to work, I know I am doing something that really matters and means something,’ Rooke explains. ‘I’m not working for money, and to be able to do a job that helps out in a higher cause can be immensely rewarding. My service with Mercy Ships gives me a chance to use the skills and abilities I have to make a difference.’



maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

Related Posts

Sharon Walls

Dr Lapham with a participant from Guinea.

Consultant Anaesthetist Dr Hilary Lapham writes about her challenging and unique experiences providing training and support for anaesthesia providers in Guinea, West Africa. Anaesthesia mag Sept 2019 Hilary Lapham PDF

“My most recent role with Mercy Ship was on the Safe Surgery follow-up team. Over three weeks we travelled ‘upcountry’, away from the Ship Ship in the capital’s port, returning to Guinea’s remote regions visiting hospitals where the [Safe Surgery] courses had previously been conducted, explains Dr Lapham. The resources, including equipment and drugs, are very limited. Some hospitals do not have running water.”


Sharon Walls





A national search is on to find the New Zealand tradie most deserving of a weekend away. The online competition is hosted by Mercy Ships, an international charity where Kiwi tradies maintain the hospital ship moored in West Africa, where life-saving surgeries are carried out.

“Kiwi volunteer plumbers, electricians, mechanics, engineers, and fitter-turners help keep our hospital ship, Africa Mercy, running, so we can provide free life-transforming surgeries to people in Africa,” says Mercy Ships NZ communications manager, Sharon Walls.

“Kiwis recognise the vital role of tradies, ‘ says competition judge Resident Builder Peter Wolfkamp. “Mercy Ships rely on volunteer tradies and expertise to keep the hospital ship functioning.  Our tradies make a big difference to this amazing charity. Through this competition we’d like to reward one tradie who most deserves it with a weekend holiday package for two.”

The prize package is a weekend for two relaxing and recharging at Sea Bird Coast’s beachfront property Sea Urchin Cottage, and free weekend rental of a luxury Holden Colorado Ute.


Any trades person can enter the competition here 

Entrants must be aged 18 years and over

The online competition closes at midnight September 18, 2019.



Tradies, use your domestic and industry experience to make a life-changing difference on the Mercy Ship! Your trade skills can help transform the future for people living in poverty.

The volunteer sparkies ys, plumbers, mechanics, fitters and turners help the engineering team run the Mercy Ship facilities that allow our hospital ship crew to provide free essential surgeries on board for babies, children and adults in Africa desperate need.


We respect your privacy and your information is 100% secure


  •  The competition will remain fair. This means that if the team at Mercy Ships New Zealand deem any behaviour unfair, they have the authority to declare any entries invalid, void the competition, change the competition instructions, or adjust the entries to maintain fairness, as they think fit.
  • The competition instructions may carry a specific indication, but in the absence of such an indication, only one entry is permitted per entrant.
  • Employees of Mercy Ships and members of their immediate family will not be eligible to participate.
  • No prize included in the competition is redeemable for cash. There will be no cash or other alternatives to the prize offered and prizes are not transferable.
  • Entries must be made in accordance with the competition instructions. They are invalid if they are received any later than the specified closing time, 18th of September at 11:59pm.
  • Entry includes a subscription to enews and allows further correspondence from Mercy Ships NZ
  • Competition is open to NZ residents only, aged 18 or over unless any other age restriction is specified or implied.
  • Winner will be drawn at random then annnounced on National Tradie Day – 20th of September – compiled from both Facebook and the Mercy Ships website landing page.
  • Winner will be contacted via the email and contact number provided and will have 6 hours to redeem the prize.
  • If the winner of the competition is unable to take up the prize for any reason and fails to respond within 24 hours once notified through provided contact details (mobile and email), Mercy Ships New Zealand reserve the right to award that prize (without notice to the first winner chosen) to an alternative winner, in which case the first winner chosen shall not be eligible for any share of the prize whatsoever. Mercy Ships New Zealand shall not have any liability in such an event.
  • No correspondence will be entered into or comment issued on any matters concerning any competition, and no reasons given for any decision made by the judges.
  • Mercy Ships reserves the right to the content entered, and to publish the name of the winner, and the winning entry itself, and all winners are required to give their full cooperation to all requests by Mercy Ships and promoters in connection with publicity for the competition, their entry, the prize or otherwise.
  • The Holden rental period will be from midday Friday to midday Monday for whatever time frame in agreement with Holden.
  • Transport to and from the place of ute rental is at the cost of the winner. The location of car collection is currently at the Schofields of Newmarket service department on 15 Mauranui Avenue, Epsom, Auckland 1051.
  • The winner will be expected to sign a standard loan agreement upon renting the ute that makes them liable to pay for any damages.
  • Compliance with Sea Urchin Cottage rules and regulations, including check-out times must be agreed upon before using the accommodation.
  • If Sea Urchin Cottage feels that the winner has disrespected any of the rules or regulations, Sea Urchin Cottage has full authority to ask the winner and their companion to leave the premises and pay for any costs that may ensue.
  • Entrants must remain respectful within all entries submitted or risk disqualification.
  • By providing your own contact information, you hereby consent to Mercy Ships sending occasional emails or other communications using the provided details.
  • Nominees and nominators have the authority to unsubscribe to the mailing list at any time.
  • The promoter does not assume any responsibility for any products or services offered as prizes in any competition and under no circumstances shall the inclusion of any product or service in the competition be construed as an endorsement or recommendation of such product or service by the provider.
  • Mercy Ships and its associated agencies and companies and their respective directors, officers, employees and agents, shall not be liable for any loss or damage, including for any personal injury suffered or sustained in connection with an entrant’s participation in the promotion or the receipt or use of any part of any prize, except for any loss or damage which is due to the negligence or willful misconduct of the promoter or which otherwise cannot be excluded by law.
  • The promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. By entering and participating each entrant agrees to hold harmless and release Facebook from and against any and all claims, demands, liability, losses costs or expenses with respect to and arising out of or related to the entrant’s participation in any prize-related activities, acceptance of a prize and/or use or misuse of a prize.


Sharon Walls

By John Clynes

If ever there W.A.S a perfect lifestyle of work and play, this is it.

Whether working full time, retired or semi-retired volunteering with Mercy Ships is a rewarding opportunity.

Take a 150-metre ship and turn it into a fully equipped first world state of the art surgical hospital. Fill it with accommodation for 450 crew from around the world and berth it against a wharf to serve the poorest of the poor in sub-Saharan West African countries to provide free life giving surgical procedures and you have this amazing Mercy Ships vessel, the Africa Mercy.

The World Health Organisation realised that five billion people in the world do not have direct access to safe, affordable and timely surgery. The lowest-ranked countries for poverty in the world are generally found just above the African equator and down the west coast of Africa. Hidden behind such people groups living there are those suffering even poorer health still. Marginalised, there are hidden faces, kept away in hiding, ashamed, cursed and die miserable lives with no chance at all for essential life-giving surgery.

The international charity Mercy Ships (check out ) is the organisation dedicated to bring hope and healing to the poorest of the poor and it takes on board volunteer crew from around the world to utilise their skills dedicated to the cause. Kiwis punch above their weight per capita for crew on the Africa Mercy in various positions throughout the vessel. To keep the ship running smoothly there is a 50 strong team of deck and engineering to keep the whole operation afloat. The Mercy Ship stays in field service against a government-approved secure berth in one country for 10 months of a year, then sails away for maintenance (usually The Canary Islands) and returns to another country for her next season.

My wife Sue, an operating theatre nurse, and myself an engineer joined the crew for  two and a half years fulltime, but volunteers can go for a little as a month depending on the position filled. There are heaps of positions from any of the 150 strong surgical / hospital team, lab technicians, physiotherapists etc, to hotel, housekeeping, stores, galley, dining room, teaching ( yes there are families on ship who go to the school academy on board). So a combo of husband and wife with your own cabin is very rewarding, or you could bunk in as an individual with other shipmates from around the world. You will find that this volunteer work and adventure and lifestyle W.A.S is one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever find in your life.

It was also very humbling to see the depravity of humanity and how some of the people from developing nations live a life of subsistence and to have a medical condition requiring surgery is virtually a death sentence. Bringing hope and healing to some of these people is truly an amazing thing to see in both their eyes and ours. Instead of pouring in misdirected monetary aid we need to be hands-on, sleeves rolled up, engineering a better way fighting the inequality of life. We cannot right all the wrongs but we can do something to restore their dignity as fellow human beings. Life on ship was great belonging to a community with purpose.

Mercy Ships is bringing another purpose-built hospital ship into service within the next few years. There is a need for more volunteers to fill the additional positions with professional people. Volunteer crew are the glue to provide the passion and love in what they do and if you are contemplating an overseas experience of work and adventure with security W.A.S, the richness and reward is multiplied back on you in countless ways. Don’t hesitate to volunteer your skills and talent.

Sharon Walls



A handful of Kiwis were amongst the crew vigorously waving flags from the ship’s deck as the Africa Mercy arrived in Dakar, Senegal for the vessel’s first field service; the former flagship Anastasis served here in 1993. This nation 3/4 the size of New Zealand with 3 times our population. It is one of the most stable democracies in Africa with a long history of peacekeeping, but the population struggles at the lowest end of the UN Human Development Index which measures the quality of life.


Senegal borders The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Mauritania. Senegalese people are 96% Muslim, and speak French, Wolof and many other dialects (we need lots of translators!)


More than 40 New Zealanders will volunteers their skills and expertise in medical, maritime and operational roles in Senegal over the next 10 months, helping to provide essential surgery for the nation’s poor.


Mercy Ships is providing free surgeries in Senegal

Why Mercy Ships is in Senegal

The Senegalese people

  • Have 7 physicians per 100,000, compared to NZ’s 285 per 100,000
  • Live in multidimensional poverty at 164/189 in the  UN Human Development Index
  • Lose their children to infant mortality 10x more often than in NZ
  • Have a life expectancy of 60 (M) or 64 (F); 20 years less than Kiwis
  • Typically earn $2,700 per year




Sharon Walls


The first surgery performed ona Mercy Ship was a cataract surgery in Mexico, in 1987


Began with Señora Refugio Camacho, a Mexican grandmother blinded by dense cataracts.


The elderly woman struggled to see as she made her way up the Anastasis gangway. The ship’s crew were full of anticipation, hoping to catch a glimpse of the very FIRST PATIENT to have surgery on a Mercy Ship.



The first Mercy Ships patient received surgery on board the Anastasis


Excerpt from ‘Ships of Mercy’ by Don Stephens

‘Señora Refugio Camacho shuffled up the gangway, her daughter hovering by her side, the rolling and rocking of the ship feeling, no doubt, like the recent earthquake. The ship’s crew gathered near the gangway, wanting to catch a glimpse of their first surgery patient.

She was 68 years old, face lined, grey wisps of hair escaping from her bun, hands calloused and arthritic, eyes dull with fading years and cloudy with cataracts. And she was stepping into a strange world, a big hospital ship that had anchored near her home after the Mexico earthquake.




Anastasis, the first Mercy Ships vesselWith a red ink thumbprint, she signed the patient consent form, donned a yellow paper gown and surgical cap, and with a final shaky smile at her daughter’s retreating touch, she was led into surgery. An assortment of medical professionals from Mexico and around the world who had arrived after Mercy Ships put out a call for expert help, all crowded into the room for this history in the making as Dr Bob Dyer performed the cataract surgery, assisted by Dr Gary Parker.

And that was also the scene the next morning as well, as everyone excitedly gathered around Señora Camacho to watch Dr Dyer carefully remove the eye patch.

As the first eye patch fell away, Señora Camacho looked toward her daughter and gasped, ‘Yo puedo ver! Yo puedo ver!’I can see! I can see! She grabbed Dr Dyer’s hand, ‘Gracias! Gracias!’

The Mercy Ship was now, finally, a hospital ship.’


After five years of volunteer toil converting the former cruise liner into a floating hospital, Senora Camacho was the first patient to receive what now numbers more than 100,000 free surgical procedures provided by Mercy Ships for people living in poverty.


Mercy Ships founders Don and Deyon Stephens
Mercy Ships founders Don and Deyon Stephens share with one of the hospital ship patients

Sharon Walls


SAlematu had no access to the surgery that would save her life

It all started with a toothache when Salematu was 24. As a first-year nursing student, she knew she should go to the dentist, but she was struggling. She had just lost her husband unexpectedly, leaving her with two young daughters. Money was low, and medical costs were high. But the pain in her mouth grew worse. Eventually, waiting was no longer an option. After examination, the doctor’s news was not good — she was told it was a tumour that was growing slowly but steadily.

Over the next two years, she watched helplessly as it took over her face, pressing into her mouth and making it more difficult to speak or swallow. It twisted her nose. It began to creep closer to her left eye, threatening her vision.

All the while, Salematu was told the same thing by doctors: there was nothing they could do. They did not have the medical capacity to help her. Over time, she was forced to abandon her dream of finishing nursing school. What use was it to continue studying if her tumour kept her from working?

Tired of the looks and comments from strangers in the street, she stopped going out. She became relegated to her home, spending most of her time with her two young daughters. She was ashamed to be seen, embarrassed to let even her daughters witness her changing face.

Kiwi nurse Shali Clemant (left) helps care for Salematu post-surgery


The first glimmer of hope came the day her uncle called her with news from the port city of Conakry — a hospital ship was arriving to perform free surgeries! Her heart was filled with happiness at the hope of release from the tumour. Salematu got on a bus and made the journey to the capital city alone, leaving her daughters behind with their grandmother.

It was hard to say goodbye not knowing how long it might be until she saw them again, especially without a way to keep in contact. But she knew that this surgery would not only save her life — it would save her daughters from growing up as orphans.

The day she walked up the gangway to receive her operation, Salematu said she felt joy down to her bones.

The next two weeks in the hospital were a blur. After her successful surgery, she bonded with the nurses who gave her round-the-clock care. “The nurses are my favourite,” Salematu said. “They are so kind to me. They have all become my friends.” After a few days, she was able to look into the mirror and see her new face for the first time after surgery.

“I feel beautiful. I feel good. I feel hopeful,” Salematu marvelled.


During her stay on the Africa Mercy, Salematu couldn’t stop thinking about the moment she would be reunited with her daughters when they would finally see her without the tumour that had hindered her smile for two long years. Without a way to send them photos, she knew the transformation would be overwhelming.

After a few days, she was able to look into the mirror and see her new face for the first time after surgery.

“I feel beautiful. I feel good. I feel hopeful,” she marvelled.

During her stay on the Africa Mercy, Salematu couldn’t stop thinking about the moment she would be reunited with her daughters, when they would finally see her without the tumour that had hindered her smile for two long years. Without a way to send them photos, she knew the transformation would be overwhelming.

“They will see me soon, and they will not believe it,” Salematu smiled. “They will be so happy!”

The day she was told she could return home, Salematu said she felt like dancing! She was so excited to finally hold her daughters close, and to return to pursuing her dreams of finishing nursing school, with the hope of one-day pouring love and care into others.

These plans for a life that once felt powerless now felt full of limitless possibility. Salematu’s miracle changed her life, and she couldn’t wait to share her joy with the world.


Sharon Walls

VIDEO: Behind-the-scenes geeks, technical crew and other unsung heroes enable the state-of-the-art hospital ship to operate in often challenging technical environments in developing nations ports. They play a hidden yet vital role in the provision of free essential surgery for some of Africa’s poorest people.

The toughest tech you’ll ever love from Mercy Ships New Zealand on Vimeo.